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By Lou Fancher via mercurynews.com
Dr. Gordon Frankie said native bees have preferences, and knowing what they like can improve the health of your garden.
“If they have a choice, they’ll go after native plants,” said Frankie, a professor and research entomologist at UC Berkeley. He and Steve Gentry, a founding member of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association, teamed up for a recent Lafayette Library Foundation Science Cafe presentation.
Frankie’s point — that local gardeners hoping to attract Agapostemon texanus or Xylocopa varipuncta, two local native bee species, should include native plants in their gardening plans. And mulching should be done lightly because 70 percent of all native bees nest in the ground and can’t burrow through materials heavier than soil.
A project at Frog Hollow Farm and other Brentwood farms is demonstrating the impact of placing native plants between crop rows.
Urban areas are ideal for bees, Frankie claimed, because of the diverse food supply they offer. The Oxford Tract Bee Garden he and his team of researchers planted allows them to monitor and categorize bees’ attraction to native and nonnative plants. A 10-city survey across California is providing a detailed picture of the bee population. San Diego, he said, is the worst city for attracting bees.
“It’s their gardening culture: No one is using diverse, floral plants,” Frankie said.
On the other end of the spectrum, a 30-by-30-foot garden in Ukiah had 68 bee species, and Santa Cruz is a hotbed beehive community. (The Bay Area is fifth on that list.)
Gentry, known by local residents as “Bee Man” — although he is considering an upgrade to “Emperor of Bees” — began the popular event’s 60-minute talk with a bucket.
“All of these products from bees are helpful to humans,” he declared, pulling hunks of beeswax and jars of honey, pollen and actual bees from the container. “Their history goes back thousands of years.”
Within five minutes, Gentry had advocated (beeswax is used for lubricants in cosmetics, candles, wax-resist dyeing and food preserving), acknowledged (“We have some hindrance about eating insects, but watch a bear break into a bee’s nest. He’ll eat the whole thing,” he said), and advertised (pollen is the new superfood, with protein, enzymes, vitamins and minerals, according to Gentry).
He also shared a 30-year-old epiphany he had while watching a black bear and her two cubs demolish a rotted tree while feasting on termites.
“I wasn’t the first person to see natural things. Forty thousand years ago, hunter-gatherers watched bears, bees and insects, too. The timeline is long,” he said.
Skipping through honeybee history, from Middle Eastern origins to monks in monasteries needing dependable light sources to small farmers before World War I who kept just enough hives to feed their families and pollinate their crops, Gentry landed on the contemporary world’s bee dilemmas.
“Industrialization changed farms. They became bigger, and now, large pollination contracts and commercial beekeeping are driving the business. (More than a million) hives are brought into the central Southern California valley for pollinating almonds each year.”
Frankie, whose business is less about keeping bees and more about watching them, asked the Science Cafe audience of gardeners, beekeepers and general science fans a series of questions.
Delighting at stumping his listeners, he said 1,600 bee species were attracted to California’s 5,000 flowering plants, drawing a hefty percentage of the United States’ 4,000 total bee species.
“Notice, you are not on their list,” he said. “Bees are vegetarians. They’re not after you or your burgers. Wasps are the ‘meat bees’ after your burgers.”
Generating a local buzz
The University of California Press will publish Gordon Frankie’s findings in a forthcoming book, “Native Bees and Their Flowers in Urban California Gardens.” Bee appreciators who don’t want to wait can find information at http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/index.html and diablobees.org.
*HoneyLove story begins @ 25:58
Learn more here: http://gardenerd.com/gardening-for-geeks/index.html
Dennis Broderick only has one hive, but don’t let that fool you. He knows his way around bees pretty well.
It all started in 2009 when Dennis was growing an heirloom garden and then, as these things do, it all snowballed. He got a worm farm. And a composter. And when he looked around he decided he needed more pollinators. One day later he heard about the Backwards Beekeepers on KPCC and within a week Dennis had been to a meeting and was making arrangements with HoneyLove mentor Kirk Anderson to bring a swarm.
A few weeks later Dennis was doing his own feral colony rescues all over Los Angeles. (His ringtone cries “Help!” when a rescue call comes in.)
Dennis still has just one hive. “I had two but one of them was mean so I sent them off to a beekeeper in the high desert,” Dennis explained. “One hive is plenty. And if they abscond, I just get more.”
His hive is five boxes high and Dennis only goes in for a few frames of honey every now and then. “I want them to be bees and pollinate. That’s it.” When asked if his colony has a name he laughed. “They’re bugs! I don’t name bugs.”
Dennis also owns and shows Grand Champion Cairn Terriers. Better yet, he has his dogs Betty and Deuce in Earth Dog and Lure Coursing competitions because he believes that dogs not only need a job but that they should get dirty and have fun.
After a stint in the military, Dennis worked for ABC TV for 25 years in Network Operations, retiring as Department Head. “It got fun when things went wrong and you had to fly by the seat of your pants.”
Sounds a lot like bee rescue, doesn’t it?
Follow Dennis and his bee adventures here:
Thanks to Donna Strong for donating a copy of her “Harmony of Bees” CD to our HoneyLove Lending Library!
Bees bring the sweetness of the flowers to us, making the world more fertile and abundant. This bee recording gives us access to sounds of nature that few people will ever hear–the high hum of bees busily pollinating a field full of flowering lavender. It is magical.
This recording has been named The Harmony of Bees; Healing Notes of Nature based on the comments of an Ecuadorian shaman who sleeps atop a hive because he finds the bee sounds so healing. The sound of the bees in a summer field of lavender is a unique experience of hearing a peak moment of pollination in action.
We humans have a new art form to cultivate–appreciating the beauty of the bees as they so productively apply themselves to the work of pollinating. Just as the plants transform sunlight, water and earthly elements into green life and pollen grains of reproductive abundance; the bees continue this caravan of nature’s alchemy through their vital work of pollination.
Bees are threatened by habitat changes, pesticide usage, and stressful commercial practices of trucking them over long distances and feeding them junk food such as sugar water, while expecting them to pollinate and produce honey without the food that nature has intended for millennia–their own honey and pollen.
This recording has been made to increase awareness of these endangered pollinators while helping us regenerate ourselves with this unique healing sound of nature. As you listen to this recording, I invite you to begin a new way to listen and heighten your perception of the bees in a kind of ‘moving meditation’ as it were, of being fully present in the moment as they move in and out of the lavender flowers in the field.
We are making a sweet tea table for our office from upcycled top bar hives!!
Help us save the honey bees!!
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